An incredible quizzer, Jyotesh Singh aspired to pursue his PhD and got an admit to Princeton University. However, life had something else in store for him, as he now heads to one of the IIMs. Read on to discover his incredible story, through a conversation with our journalist Hetvi Jethwani.
H: What made you come to IIT and how were your 4 years?
J: Since I was 15, I’d decided that I want to go for research - in photonics. And joining IIT just seemed natural. After coming to IIT, I realized that the distribution of teachers is a bell curve - what makes the main difference to the IIT experience is your peer group. I was relatively lucky on both fronts - I had a great group of friends and got to interact very closely with a lovely set of profs. I think I enjoyed my 2nd year the most - 4th sem is very intense for EE, and I was juggling being a QC Rep, projects, and all these courses. The satisfaction of being able to manage all of these made me very happy.
H: So, did you end up pursuing a career in research?
J: History will remember him for the controversial decisions he has taken as VC at JNU, but for me, he was the amazing professor who got me hooked on Analog Electronics. That’s what I narrowed down my interests to. I wanted to go for research, so I got into the PhD program at Princeton. In my 2nd/3rd semester there, I got diagnosed with clinical depression - I was in a very dark place. There was a lot of coming and going to India, it was taking a toll on my mental health. Eventually, I dropped out and came back home. I still don’t know what I’ll do, but I appeared for the CAT, and I got into IIM-A. I was hoping to get into IIM-B, but I’m waitlisted.
H: IIM-B, why?
J: I want to be close to quizzing, and Bangalore has a great quizzing culture.
H: Would you be comfortable in talking more about your tryst with Princeton?
J: Graduate research is very different. In the first semester, you get to attend lab meetings to see which professor you’re comfortable working with. My supervisor, Prof K.S., is a brilliant man, but his intellect is sort of overshadowing. In my first meeting with him, he asked a question to a senior PhD student - who couldn’t answer it, but I could. What he chose to say to that student was,” See, even he can do it,” which is probably the worst thing to choose to say - he indirectly insulted both of us. I’m not blaming anything on him, but then I sort of started putting more pressure on myself. I feel like I was too result-oriented, I hadn’t really failed before. Well, I did get a 6 for my BTP-2 at IITD, but that didn’t really affect me much - I had a PhD acceptance. They were dark times, but I’m quite blessed. I have a very strong support system. I remember, one day, I was ignoring calls from my family, refusing to reply, and they had to send the campus police to my room. My sister was a med student at that time. She talked to one of her psychology professors, who suggested I should go and get a diagnosis and begin therapy. I’ve always had an immense amount of support from my family - and I say this as a 27 year old who hasn’t joined the workforce yet, and hasn’t earned anything apart from his stipend. I’m blessed, and quite grateful for it - and being in a better place now.
H: What made you take the decision of giving CAT?
J: Choosing to give CAT was a tough decision. I could’ve joined a core EE company - but the work is “research-intensive”, and that is something I wanted to avoid putting myself through again. A programming job - sure, I was decent at it, I am out of practice though. The major hurdle to join the workforce at this stage is - I need to explain the 5-year gap in my CV. That is something that can only be done when I get to the interview stage. Given the recession, and all the competition, being selected for the interview stage is also very difficult - especially since I have no work experience either. This “IIT ke baad IIM” combination is tried and tested by the real world. Moreover, when I was in IIT - I tailor-made my academics for the niche of research in analog electronics. Going back to college is a chance for me to diversify - and I think it’s the best I can do at this stage.
H: You mentioned you wanted to go to IIM-B because of the great quizzing culture. What is it that makes quizzing so special for you?
J: In Class 6, I started quizzing - it felt like,”ye toh badhiya cheez hai,” and I never really got tired of it. I had a friend in another school. We were joining college together - he went to Jamia. After coming to college, I had a ready-made team and went to all sorts of quizzes very enthusiastically. Later, we learnt and started to filter based on quizmasters and stuff. On my first day of IIT, I remember calling up Kumaon’s Quizzing Representative - I thought rep banna bohot badi cheez hoti hai. Later, I also became the rep - the last year of BRCA comp, and we lost the QC trophy to Nilgiri. Interestingly, I was one of the people who looked down upon humanities students - but then seeing them answer questions I couldn’t, seeing their knowledge just wore down this prejudice. Quizzing sort of expanded my horizons. Mainly, there are two things about it. One - only a curious person would quiz, for example, if you come across a new word - some people might figure it out contextually and move on, but a quizzer will google it- look for its etymology, and whatnot. (palm oil funda put or no??) It feels nice to know things, and it just enables you to hold conversations too. Two, the sheer satisfaction of “working out” a question you don’t know the answer to using clues makes you feel like Sherlock! It’s like a major ego boost - tells you that you’re smart. And that’s an important part of the psyche.
H: Coming back to your time at IIT, are there any incidents you remember very vividly?
J: Yes, many in fact. This is going to take a dark turn now - in my 1st Rendezvous, I was walking around wind-T with a friend, and suddenly a body fell from the top of the main building, and landed in front of me. I had never been on such close terms with death before. While help came soon, that question of, “am I a good person if I stood there and didn’t try to do my part to help although I knew it wouldn’t have helped”, “does being a 17 year old in shock let me get away with that” is something I’ve still not answered.
On a lighter note, I also visited Mood-Indigo once. Mood-Indigo, and Nihilanth were happening simultaneously - which meant the accomodation for us was shit. The seniors were smoking up in a room allotted to 6 people. I went in and got so scared that I frantically looked for another place to sleep at. Finally, I borrowed someone's floor to sleep for the night and slept on my towel. Funnily enough, this happened again the subsequent 2 nights with 2 other IITD contingent folks. There, I also remember fighting a security guard for the sake of principle. So, for a pronite (as a revenge), they told me they won't let me go inside with my pen (aka the mighty tool of a quizzer). I argued for a while, they didn't budge. So I turned around and left after waiting for over 30 minutes to get in.
H: Lastly, any funde you want to give to the IITD junta?
J: Do NOT make the same mistakes I did! Do not have preconceived notions about life, and always recheck the assumptions you're making. This might sound like a cliché, but they're clichés for a reason. I find it valuable to add to this something Professor Shouri Chatterjee told me,"There will come a time in your PhD when it feels like everything around you is crumbling. You will sit and cry, you will feel like you've achieved nothing. Have something to say to yourself then, which will carry you."